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Letter: The Time for a Smoking Ban is Now

Dear The River City News,
I would like to offer my reflection on Mainstrasse Village Shows Organic Shift to Non-Smoking as Statewide Ban Grows in Popularity, which appeared in the January 4 edition of River City News. While it is heartening that there is a clear shift by the market to smoke-free businesses, the article does not reflect the fact that the most compelling argument for smoke-free businesses and public spaces is the impact it will have on health. A strictly market-driven response is not adequate to address this issue.
As it stands today (with limited restrictions in Kenton County, but none in surrounding  counties in Northern Kentucky), a business owner has the right to allow known carcinogens – in the form of smoke from tobacco products – to pollute the air breathed by his/her employees and customers. In other words, the personal choice/property rights of the owner take preference over the right of employees or customers to clean air. This is the crux of the matter; while smoking restrictions limit personal choices, they do so for a greater good – the health of individuals and the cost to society of resulting health care costs.
We have information on the costs associated with smoking. Kentucky incurs $1.92 billion a year in healthcare costs treating smoking-related illnesses. $487 million of that is spent through Medicaid, costing each Kentucky household $1,164. Smoking related illness and death also costs Kentucky $2.3 billion a year in lost productivity. We live in a world where businesses have adapted to numerous regulations that impose requirements that protect the health of employees, patrons and the community. Comprehensive smoking restrictions in the workplace and in public places are overdue. 
In addition to the savings mentioned earlier, there are other economic benefits associated with going smoke free. Economists believe smoke-free environments can boost businesses’ bottom lines by reducing maintenance expenses, insurance premiums, labor costs and absenteeism, and increasing employee productivity. A common argument in Northern Kentucky is that local businesses that allow smoking benefit because Ohio businesses are smoke-free.  That’s not the case. A 2009 economic impact study of Ohio’s smoke-free law showed no economic benefit for bordering Kentucky counties to allow smoking. 
Smoke-free policies are good for business and Kenton County voters agree. According to a recent study commissioned by the Northern Kentucky Health Department, 70% of Kenton County voters, and nearly two-thirds of voters across Northern Kentucky, favor smoke-free environments. Furthermore, business may improve if local establishments are smoke-free. In the same study, more than one in three Kenton County residents indicated they would go to Kentucky restaurants more often if they were all smoke free.
It’s time that we recognize this is a health issue with significant economic costs. The good news is that addressing the issue by going smoke-free has both health and economic benefits for Kentucky. Please join me in communicating your support for statewide legislation to uniformly restrict smoking in the workplace and public space by contacting your state legislator and letting them know you support House Bill 145.
Dan Petronio, Covington